UE4 – Loading shaders from within the project folder

Software:
Unreal Engine 4.25

Disclaimer:
I’m probably the 10th guy that’s documenting these steps on the web,
I didn’t come up with this solution myself, I learned it from the sources listed below.
The reason I’m documenting this (again) myself is to have a clear source I can come back to for this issue because I’m absolutely incapable of remembering subjects like this…… :-\
If you find inaccuracies in the steps I’m detailing or my explanation, I’ll be very grateful if you share a comment.

  1. https://forums.unrealengine.com/development-discussion/rendering/1562454-virtual-shader-source-path-link-custom-shaders-shadertoy-demo-download
  2. https://dinwy.github.io/study/2019/july/customShaderInUE4/
  3. https://forums.unrealengine.com/community/community-content-tools-and-tutorials/1710373-using-external-shader-files-ush-usf-and-getting-the-most-of-the-custom-node

In short:
AFAIK since version 4.21 UE doesn’t load custom node shader code from your project/Shaders folder by default anymore, but only from the shaders folder in the engine installation, which makes it less practical for developing shaders for specific projects.


Steps for setting the UE project to load shaders from the project folder in UE 4.22:

> The examples here are for a project named: “Tech_Lab”

A. The project must be a C++ project:

So either create a new project, define as such or just create a new C++ class and compile the project with it to convert it to a C++ project.
Notes:
a. You may need to right click the .uproject file icon and and Generate Visual Studio Project Files for the project to load correctly into Visual Studio and compile.
b. You can delete the unneeded C++ class you added after the new settings took place.

B. Create a folder for the shader files:

Typically, it will be called “Shaders” and will be placed in the project root folder.

C. Add the RenderCore module to the project:

This is done by adding string “RenderCore” to array of public dependency modules in the <project>.build.cs file:

PublicDependencyModuleNames.AddRange(new string[] { "RenderCore", "Core", "CoreUObject", "Engine", "InputCore" });
(see image)

Notes:
a. In UE 4.21 it should be ShaderCore.
b. This addition is needed in-order to compile a new primary project module (next step).

D. Define a custom primary module for your project:

In <project_name>.h file add a new module named F<project_name>Module, with a StartupModule function overrides.
Notes:
a. We have add an include statement for “Modules/ModuleManager”.
b. The <project_name>.h file is located in the /Source/<project_name> folder.
c. Some sources state that you also have to override the ShutdownModule function, with an empty override, it works for me without this (maybe its just a mistake..)

E. Implement the function override,
and set the custom module as the project primary module:

In <project_name>.cpp file, add the StartupModule override,
With the definition of the added shaders path:
FString ShaderDirectory = FPaths::Combine(FPaths::ProjectDir(), TEXT("Shaders"));

and mapping this new path as “/Project” for conveniently including it:
AddShaderSourceDirectoryMapping("/Project", ShaderDirectory);

Last thing to do is to replace “FDefaultGameModuleImpl” with our custom module name in the IMPLEMENT_PRIMARY_GAME_MODULE macro:
IMPLEMENT_PRIMARY_GAME_MODULE(FTech_LabModule, Tech_Lab, "Tech_Lab" );

Notes:
a. We must include “Misk/Paths”
b. Note that the addition of this folder mapping is restricted to versions 4.22 and higher via a compiler directive condition. for version 4.21, you should state “ENGINE_MINOR_VERSION >= 21:

F. Wrapping up:

After taking these steps and compiling the project.
You should be able to include .ush and .usf files stored in <your_ue_project>/Shaders with the “Project” path mapping:
include "/Project/test.usf"

That’s it! 🙂

I hope you found this helpful,
And if you encountered errors, or inaccuracies,
I’ll be grateful if you’ll take the time to comment.


Related:

  1. UE4 – Cyber enhancement shader
  2. UE4 – Fog post process effect

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